Religion teachers fear students who are practising Catholics are being targeted for bullying more than those who do not practise a religion.
That’s according to Dr James O'Higgins Norman, the Unesco chair on Tackling Bullying in Schools and Cyberspace and director of the National Anti Bullying Research and Resource Centre at Dublin City University.
Prof O’Higgins Norman was addressing the Oireachtas Education Committee on Tuesday as it met to continue its discussions on school bullying and its impact on mental health.
A recent study carried out by the National Anti-Bullying Centre found teachers of religious education have specific concerns about students who are practising Catholics being targeted for bullying more than those who are not, he told the committee.
Society has become more pluralistic, Prof O’Higgins Norman told the committee.
This also lines up with international research, he added.
"With bullying, when people are seen to be different, they often stand out, and therefore are more likely to be targeted.”
An understanding of difference must be promoted in schools, he said. “That difference is the norm, that no two people are the same.”
Research by the National Anti-Bullying Centre also found that just 51% of schools have appointed a specific member of staff to investigate bullying in their school, and less than half had researched and identified a specific anti-bullying programme.
An audit of the national action plan on bullying, and further research into why some schools are encountering challenges in implementing it were among the recommendations it made to the committee.